I’ve just enjoyed a trip I’ve been looking forward to for some time, visiting some of the most significant places in France where Django Reinhardt, father of jazz manouche, lived, played and created his incredibly beautiful music. A trip of this nature runs the risk of falling short of one’s expectations. For that reason, I decided to have none. I hoped to absorb feelings but did not expect to experience real personal encounters.
My first evening in Paris changed everything. Looking through listings on a jazz site I use, a name popped out—Simba Baumgartner playing Jazz manouche at a club on the left bank of the Seine called Monk at the Taverne de Cluny. At first I thought it a coincidence but soon learned he indeed was the great grandson of Django Reinhardt, grandson of Lousson Baumgartner, Django and his first wife Bella’s son. Bella had remarried and he took the name of her husband. My daughter, who was visiting from California, headed over with me for a marvelous evening of music in a lively atmosphere.
Simba and his trio were wonderful. Monk at the Taverne de Cluny is an intimate venue and much of the music the trio played was from Simba’s new CD, which while faithful to Django, was infused with Simba’s own creative embellishments. All the musicians were top notch! In Paris I was able to catch many great shows but none impressed me more than what I experienced this evening due both to the superb talent of these musicians and them fulfilling the purpose of my trip.
After a visit to Nice, where Django played throughout the years and participated in the very first Nice Jazz Festival in 1948, I came to Samois Sur Seine, the last home and final resting place of Django. I knew they held a grand festival each year in Django’s honor but doubted I would see anyone connected with his life as he passed away in 1953.
On my first walk from my Airbnb down to the Seine, I spotted a plaque on a house and discovered it was Django’s former home. When a gentleman appeared from within, dog in tow, a gentleman with his dog and we started a conversation. Informed of my mission he offered to show me the house. The man was the grandson of Django’s great friend in Samois sur Seine, Fernand Loisy. The family owned the home and also the bar/café, Chez Fernand, where Django took his tea in the morning before fishing and then often winding out days playing billiards with neighbors. My new acquaintance, Raynard, told me of their friendship and I learned Chez Fernand had since changed hands but his family owned a very special Italian Restaurant next door called Le K. Django’s home had gone through some changes but it was impressive to stand in the rooms he and his family had occupied just steps from the river where he fished and a block from where he spent his leisure hours.
On my second day in Samois I took a walk early in the morning to the old cemetery to pay my respects to Django. It took me awhile to locate his tomb, but once there, there was no question. I was surprised that so many members of the family were buried in the same tomb where their names were also inscribed. Various groups had decorated it with lovely memoirs of Django and his music but what most moved me were two guitar pics placed on the tombstone. I wished I had something significant to leave him but hoped my fondness and admiration would suffice.
That evening I wandered down to the river again hoping to have a glass of wine at the restaurant that had once been Chez Fernand, now owned by a young man named Pierre. Pierre’s place was beautiful and the original bar was still there giving a feeling of how it must have been in Django’s days. A fire burned in an oversized fireplace and the tables were immaculately set with beautiful old china and crystal. I decided to stay and enjoy the fresh fish the restaurant was known for. The cod was the best I have ever sampled and the view of the Seine was peaceful and thought provoking. At every turn this town becomes more magical to me.
I will return to California in a couple of days and soon be back in Puerto Vallarta where a friend and I are working diligently on an upcoming project we hope will become a thriller. Stay tuned! For updates, please visit my website: <vallartasounds.com>.